10 Awesome Ways to Deal with an Underperforming Employee

Do you have an underperforming employee and you’re not sure how to address it? These interesting ideas may be useful in getting your staff members back on track after a performance slump.

1. Firstly, check-in with yourself

Before jumping straight into performance management, it pays to take a good look at the situation first. That means a bit of self-analysis too because if you’re going to talk to an employee about underperformance, you want to be confident that you’ve given them all the tools to perform correctly. Ask yourself a few tough questions, such as:

  • Have I been clear enough in what’s expected of them?
  • Has the staff member been given adequate training?
  • Have I provided the right type of support to help the staff member?

It’s never easy to shine the performance spotlight on yourself, but as a manager, you should be confident that you’ve done everything you need to in order to encourage good performance.

2. Find out why the employee is underperforming

In the same way that you need to check that you’ve done all you can as a manager, it’s worth taking some time to think about why the employee is underperforming. One way, of course, is to ask them directly. Is there something going on in their personal life? Are they struggling with knowledge gaps? Are there workplace issues such as conflicts with other staff members? An underperforming employee won’t always be upfront about these issues, as they may not feel comfortable bringing them up. But, knowing that you’re thinking of them can sometimes be a big help.

This is where listening is so important in management, too. If you’re not at the stage where you want to ask these questions of the employee directly, think back to previous interactions you’ve had. Have they asked for leave to deal with a personal issue? Have they mentioned something in passing? Maybe you’ve witnessed some different behaviour recently? If you’ve been paying attention as a manager, you may have already noticed a few signs.

3. Have all of your facts prepared

Once you’re ready to have a performance discussion with an employee, you should always have some facts and evidence prepared. For the first meeting, you shouldn’t go overboard and bring a huge file of evidence, because this gets your staff member on the back foot immediately. It makes the discussion feel like an ambush, and you’re not likely to get good, honest communication happening.

However, it’s important that you don’t simply use terms like, “I’ve noticed your performance slipping.’’ This is too vague, and the employee could rightfully ask for specific examples. So, make sure you have a few on hand

4. Offer additional training

If you can identify that your employee may not be as well-trained as you previously thought, then why not discuss some training goals with them? Corporate training comes in many shapes and sizes, and you could schedule some courses that not only help your employee perform in their current role, but also offer them some relevant skills they can use to advance their career.

Consider business training options such as leadership courses, time management, project management or anything else that may interest them. It could be just the spark they need to refocus and recommit to their performance goals.

5. Ask them for their honest thoughts on the company direction

Sometimes employees feel powerless. Management makes the decisions, sets the company direction, and the workers just feel they need to follow along. So, why not start engaging your employee in some higher-level discussions about the way things are run? If they haven’t yet become too far disengaged, you can have some honest and productive conversations, and they may even have some great suggestions for how to do things better.

If your employee’s ideas seem valuable, take them further and see what comes of it. You can’t guarantee that the executives will listen to every idea, but if that employee does see one of their ideas picked up and they receive some recognition, it can spur them on to lift their own performance.

6. Review performance goals together

One issue that many employees find is that they don’t have much control over their work. While there’s often a good reason for that, and you can’t change the way everything is done, you can certainly give employees more input into their performance goals. Take some time each month to discuss their goals, how they’re tracking against them, and most importantly whether they need any further support to reach those goals.

Often, clearly showing an employee how their own performance contributes to the business and other teammates as a whole, can be enough to turn them around.

7. Give them more responsibilities

It might seem a bit strange to give someone who is underperforming more work to do. However, often it’s just what they need! Many people’s performance slips because they feel stuck in a rut. The truth is, they could probably do their job standing on their head, but their performance slips because they lose interest. It’s almost too easy for them. So, give them a little challenge and see how they pick up the responsibility.

8. Consider flexible working arrangements

If you’ve been actively listening to your employee and discovered there are some valid reasons for their underperformance, your mindset should shift to supporting rather than punishing. Would your employee benefit from flexible working arrangements, such as working from home? Perhaps they’re having difficulty juggling the kids, relationships, or even caring for sick family members. So, could they perhaps work fewer hours, or more hours on some days to get an extra day off?

Showing flexibility may not only solve the performance issue, but it could be life-changing for that person to see their employer supporting them through a difficult time.

9. Discuss a change of role

In many cases, employees stagnate if they’ve been in a role for too long. This is one of the most common causes of underperformance, so is it time for a change? Underperformance shouldn’t be rewarded, so we’re not really talking about promotion. But perhaps there is some sideways movement possible, giving them a chance to try something else and be challenged a little more.

10. Ask them to take on a mentoring role

Now, this is another one that you need to be a bit careful with. You need to find out how disengaged the employee really is before you even consider this option. However, just like the idea of giving them more responsibilities, many people surprise you if they are challenged.

Often, employees get very involved in their own work or their own issues, and this is where they start losing sight of the overall team or company goals. By asking them to assist and mentor a new or junior staff member, you’re putting them in a position of leadership where they need to think at a level above just their own job.

As mentioned, this should only be considered an option if the employee is still reasonably well engaged with the company and their job. If not, they could pass on bad habits, negative viewpoints and a poor work ethic to less-experienced staff members.


If you’ve got underperforming employees, the overall best advice is to not limit yourself in the way you deal with it. The ideas above are just 10 suggestions for how to manage underperformance. Some will be right for your situation, and others won’t. There are also plenty of other ways you can address performance issues, too. So, don’t get stuck with just one way of doing things. Look at each case uniquely, and decide on a way forward that suits all parties.


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